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The Unfortunate Mr. Pipon

Charles Ashworth Pipon was not a politician or a celebrity, but the circumstances of his death and funeral were major news events in his hometown of Toronto in the summer of 1906.

Right, the modest stone of Charles Pipon in St. James Cemetery, Toronto. The granite that should top the marker is buried beside it.

I came across his modest gravestone in St. James Cemetery —and this story—a few years ago.

Charles was the Ontario passenger agent for International Mercantile Marine Co. with an office at 41 King Street East in the King Edward Hotel building. Among the many, many assets of J.P. Morgan’s International Mercantile Marine Company was the White Star Line well known six years later for its unsinkable Titanic. In 1906, steamship and rail agencies were concentrated in the King and Yonge area, particularly east of Yonge, and overflowing onto Victoria and Toronto streets.

By all appearances, Charles Pipon was doing well from his association with International Mercantile Marine, and had a comfortable house at 41 Cecil Street for his young family.

Charles and his wife Maud Mary Rutherford were parents of three children—Philip Rutherford (1894), Charles Arthur (1899), and Mary Rozel (1902). He and Maud married in Toronto on June 1, 1892, at her parents’ home on Jarvis Street.[1]

Charles was born in St. Helier in Jersey in about 1856, the son of Philip Gossett Pipon and his wife Sophia.[2] In the summer of 1906, Charles travelled back to visit his family in Jersey and to look after some matters concerning his father’s will.

Well, at least that was the plan…

Charles embarked from New York on June 23 on the American Line steamer New York bound for London. Passengers had the choice of debarking in Plymouth and taking a special express train to Waterloo Station, or travelling on to dock at Southampton for London. The “boat train” from Plymouth was both faster… and the deluxe option: three first class coaches, a powerful engine, a combined buffet and brake van, and a car for luggage.

The New York reached Plymouth at about 9:30 pm on June 30, and 43 of the passengers boarded tenders to take them to the train. Less than two hours later, they were on their way to London.

A non-stop trip. But they were supposed to slow down through Salisbury station.

It was the first time that 40-year-old William J. Robins had driven the boat train but he had 22 years experience with the company. He was, by all accounts, sober, well rested and ready for duty that night.

But he took the train through Salisbury station at more than double the mandated speed of 26 miles per hour.

At 1:57 am on July 1, on a curve at the east end of the station, the engine left the rails, ploughing into a milk train moving the opposite direction on an adjacent line. It also hit a light engine on a siding.[3] The three passenger cars were hurled from the track and destroyed. The brake van and its occupants were preserved by the quick-witted guard who managed to slow the car and keep it upright.

Driver Robins, the fireman Arthur Gadd, the milk train’s fireman Sidney C. Chick and guard G. Chenneour, and 24 passengers were killed. Three of the deceased passengers were from Toronto: prominent lawyer Walter Barwick, Rev. Edward Ley King (36-year-old vicar at St. Thomas’s Church), and our Mr. Pipon.[4]

The accident made news around the world, and particularly in Toronto where it consumed most of the front pages of both the Toronto Daily Star and the Globe. Speculation about why the driver hadn’t slowed was rampant, including rumors of racing between competing rail companies and suggestions that passengers had bribed him to beat the clock. An inquiry was held beginning July 4. It blamed excessive speed but came to no further conclusion about cause.[5]

Rev. King was buried in Salisbury on July 3, but Charles Pipon and Walter Barwick came home to Toronto.

The bodies of Pipon and Barwick, and five other victims, arrived in New York on the American Line steamship Minneapolis on July 16. They were met by relatives and some high-powered friends and travelled to Toronto on a special rail car, courtesy of the New York Central Railway.

The next day, a family service for Charles Pipon was held at his home on Cecil Street, followed by a much larger service at St. Thomas’s Anglican Church. The impressive list of attendees, pallbearers, and floral tributes, are given in great detail in the Globe.[6] The steamship and railway community was well represented, and the White Star line sent a floral flag made of crimson carnations with a star of white roses.

After the service, conducted by Bishop Sweatman and Rev. C. Ensor Sharpe[7], the cortege made its way to St. James Cemetery, where Charles was buried in the Rutherford family plot.

And that’s where I met him, about 100 years later.


[1] Ontario Marriage Registration for 1892, #14502, as viewed on Ancestry.ca, April 21, 2012.

[2] For more information about the Pipon family of Jersey, see the impressive collection of Pipon documents at the Jersey Archive. The collection is catalogued online at: http://www.jerseyheritagetrust.jeron.je/name.html

[3] The account of the inquiry into the disaster, including testimony from railway employees and passengers is available online here: http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/BoT_Salisbury1906.pdf

[4] The names of all those killed are listed on a memorial in Salisbury. A photo by James Cummins can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/24483638@N08/2567777436/

[6] Globe, July 18, 1906, p 8.

[7] Rev. Sharpe, an assistant at St. Thomas’s, was later appointed to replace the late Rev. E.L. King.

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